Just starting out - Tasmania

Discussion in 'Designing, building, making and powering your life' started by earthabode, Jul 16, 2009.

  1. earthabode

    earthabode Junior Member

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    Gday All,

    This post and most to follow are about getting started 'off the grid' so I hope this is the best place to post.

    Got some questions that have been rolling around in my head for some time now that I was hoping you guys might be able to help me with. However, a little context might make things easier for all. So here goes.

    Like many of you out there, we have been on the road to a more sustainable way of life with a long term plan of being off the grid. We bought a 50 acre block of land down on the South East coast of Tasmania. It’s in a remote locale about as far off grid as you could ask for with no town services and none likely to every come.

    It’s an elevated block some 150 meters above sea level and about 1200 meters inland. The block was logged and farmed some 40 odd years back but seems to have come back with gums, black woods, etc.

    There is a gully that runs through the block with a winter stream, half foot deep, that supports man ferns and other water needing native trees. No plans for harvesting this water source. Soil on block is mostly clay like.

    The actual home site was already etched out when we bought it, sitting on a flat knoll, measuring only 75 meters by 10 meters max, with steep slope on three sides. The long side faces North West. The home site kinda suits … encouraging us to be clever with both space, resources, and our footprint on the land.

    There is one other flat section, that sits some 100 meters behind the home sight, 15 meters higher than the home site, measuring 100 by 150 meters that we would like to at some point create more of a food forest / orchard.

    The annual rainfall in the nearest town, 10 km’s away is about 1100 mill, but I’m guessing our microclimate is more like 800 mills.

    There appears to be four possible dam sites, one some 15 meters above the home site on the flat section mentioned above, one below the home site in another dry gully, and two other separate flat spots, both below the home site, both on the same contour, on slope at a keypoint, I guess you would call it.

    Many questions to ask, most in some sort of logical sequential order, while others like ENERGY, micro scale in my case, just need to be resolved at some point.

    It seems that just about everyone I know living off the grid went with solar as their energy source and probably for good reason I suppose. Second in line is wind followed by micro hydro.

    However, I’m beginning to think that maybe there are other energy sources on the horizon that are more flexible in their use, more sustainable, produce reliable energy whenever you want it, have lower embodied energy, produce a byproduct that can be recycled back into the system, can be used to fuel a tractor, and maybe cheaper all up?

    Assuming your like most folk living off grid, only running electrical appliances when needed, would it not be viable to use a ‘generator’ and create your own fuel? Wood and other organic waste could be burned in a steam turbine generator, charcol could be produced, capturing and using both heat and gas in some other way, right? Or maybe an ethanol / alcohol / gas type fuel could be generated from organic waste, a fuel crop, or even eucalyptus, then feed into a regular generator, right?

    Surely you can pick up quiet generators that could be kept in a root cellar then turned on with the flick of a switch? Anyone out there tinkering with such ideas? Is this not a viable option? Or maybe this simply doesn’t work for some obvious reason? Any thoughts on the matter much appreciated?

    More specific questions to come in regards to earthworks, design, sequencing of a project, etc. Thanx for taking the time to read over this ‘long winded’ blurb. Will get some photos up next. HooRoo Earthabode
     
  2. ppp

    ppp Junior Member

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    Re: Just starting out - Tasmania

    I've produced small amounts of ethanol as an experiment using a sugar solution fermented with yeast, and a drum and long pipe with wet clothes over it as a simple still.. it takes alot of heat energy to heat it all up to make the distilation work..

    There are two books on making a "gas producer" here: https://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0302 ... ested.html

    they are for running a petrol or diesel engine on wood chips.. can be used for both stationary and vehicle traffic.

    Both were produced to provide a resource for an "emergency" where petrol and diesel are scarce. (One in the US and one in Australia). I'm not sure that wood gas is particularly eco - friendly though.. there are some noxious gases produced.. though the fuel can all be renewable.

    A motorised generator (wood gas or ethanol) would require starting every time, wherewas solar with batteries goes on with the flick of a switch. The losses with each of the steps are fairly large as well.. sugar -> ethanol -> distilation ->burning -> electricity -> lights.. even so, the advantage is that it's a lot lower tech! Hey, maybe you will want a back up generator in the long term anyway.. perhaps you could aim for diversity of energy source.. solar with ethanol backup?
     
  3. earthabode

    earthabode Junior Member

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    Re: Just starting out - Tasmania

    PPP

    perhaps you could aim for bio-diversity of energy source.. solar with ethanol backup?

    Yep, considering the time and effort needed, maybe this is a more practical approach to home energy needs off grid.

    What got me thinking of an alternative energy source was an article I read some time ago that suggests the minerals used in solar panels are also expected to peak some time soon. Who knows?

    p.s. thanx for the digital links page :D
     
  4. SueinWA

    SueinWA Junior Member

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    Re: Just starting out - Tasmania

    For ethanol production, you might want to read David Blume's Alcohol Can Be a Gas. Six hundred pages of info, mostly meat.

    Alcohol from cellulose seems more technical than alcohol from sugar/starch, as I believe the cellulose needs to be broken down chemically before it can be distilled.

    All the American noise is about using corn for making ethanol, but there are far better crops. Wild cattail (Typha genus) rhizomes are one of the best, producing about 2500 gallons per acre. If the cattails are part of a liquid sewage-treatment program, the results can quadruple that amount. Pretty good for one acre, eh? There are many other plants that are very useful also, domesticated and 'wild' plants. Sugar beets and forage beets are very good are good domestic crops if they will grow there.

    Once your still was in production, you could use some of your product as the fuel to produce future batches, eliminating the need for petroleum products or wood.

    But I do agree that solar should be one of your first adaptations. Great strides are being made in solar power. I have heard that there is even a method of producing homemade (literally) solar power.

    Sue
     
  5. Pablito

    Pablito Junior Member

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    Re: Just starting out - Tasmania

    I looked at steam a few years back, but then decided against it, as you need to be physically present while the engine is running - steam explosions are very nasty. I've decided to go with solar and with wind as back-up.
    Where In Tassie are you? We are about to set up in Franklin on 32 acres.
     
  6. earthabode

    earthabode Junior Member

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    Re: Just starting out - Tasmania

    Gday Sue / Pablito

    Will be based down on the Tasman Peninsula. We really love that corner of the state. Hope to be down there some time in the next few weeks for a few weeks. Cheers.

    Thanx for your insights on steam based power generation. Maybe a home grown alcohol based fuel will fit into the bill for at least fueling a car for the occasional jaunt into town.

    Sue, the micro home grown way of fueling ones life definately has appeal. Cheers.

    p.s. Also love your corner of the state. Did the walk from Cockle Creek up and out to Scotts Peak a few years back now. A wildly beautiful place to be.

    Thanx again

    Earthabode
     

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